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The latest in a string of vampire flicks, Dracula 2000 ends up somewhere between enjoyably trashy and respectably subtle.

In Cool Blood 

Dracula 2000 seems dead-set on reminding us of better vampire movies

Vampire flicks just seem rather bloodless these days. In the last several years, we've been treated to such unimpressive offerings as Wes Craven's Vampires, The Little Vampire, Vampire in Brooklyn, Dusk to Dawn 2 and 3, and television shows like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. Was anyone out there clamoring for a Dracula 2000?

For whatever reason, the movie was made anyway, and got the "Wes Craven presents" moniker (which is quickly becoming a big, flashing neon sign that says, "Don't waste your money"). It's the same story we've seen dozens of times before, except that the "2000" in the title connotes some sort of, I suppose, "hipness."

Ever since his first appearance in 1921's Nosferatu, Dracula was always the "cool" monster--handsome, seductive and dressed in snazzy clothes. So it's no big shocker when vampires are portrayed as bad-ass mofos on the cutting edge of fashion. Unfortunately, taking this attitude in a meaningful direction almost never happens--movies like Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys, Neil Jordan's Interview with the Vampire and Abel Ferrara's The Addiction are very ambitious but only somewhat successful attempts.

More frequent are the efforts to simply thrill the audience in such splatter-fests as Bordello of Blood or From Dusk Till Dawn. These are movies that pump up the blood and beautiful bodies with a high-octane sense of movement and style. Dracula 2000 gets off to a good start in the latter category: A group of thieves (sexy, young thieves, that is) break in to the safe of one Abraham Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer, who played the same role in 1988's Nosferatu a Venezia)--and yes, he's the great-grandson of the original vampire killer Dr. Van Helsing.

Inside, they find a dusty catacomb filled with Indiana Jones-style booby traps protecting a large, steel coffin. Thinking there are riches within, they swipe the coffin, then retreat to their getaway plane. While in flight, they open the coffin. What they discover is a delightful continental breakfast, complete with Belgian waffles and jelly-filled pastries! I'm kidding, of course--nothing in Dracula 2000 is that big of a surprise, and they find the undead creep (Gerard Butler) alive and full of a new, 21st-century verve.

With his good-looking young charge Simon (Jonny Lee Miller, who looks like he should be harmonizing with N'Sync instead of chopping up bloodsuckers) by his side, Van Helsing takes after Dracula (or "Drac-oo-la" as Plummer insists on pronouncing it), armed with a full arsenal of knives and nail guns. Their mission is to protect Van Helsing's estranged daughter, Mary (Justine Waddell), who lives with her friend Lucy in New Orleans. Meanwhile, Dracula turns a few hot women into lusty, potty-mouthed vampire protectors. (For some reason, the count just isn't interested in male vampire companions.)

There are plenty of baffling questions left unanswered. Why, instead of three vampire chicks, doesn't Dracula amass a huge vampire army so that no one can stop him? Why, after Dracula bites Mary, does she not turn into a vampire? And how is it possible that Van Helsing watches a television report of a gruesome plane crash in an airport? It should be mentioned that there is one plot twist near the end of the film that is extremely bold, and adds a whole new genesis to the Dracula myth. And although ludicrously ambitious for a movie of such meager means, this twist is so grandiose and out-of-left-field that it might make the movie worth it for horror fans.

Aside from that, the story progresses like any other version of Dracula, with a few minor cosmetic changes. Van Helsing, it turns out, is the actual Van Helsing, whose kept himself alive by injecting himself with tiny amounts of Dracula's blood. And Dracula is attracted to Mary partly because of their shared blood bond. Yes, there's a vague, incestuous theme present here, but, then again, Dracula has always represented a figure who forgives and indulges in our deviant sex fantasies--adultery, S&M, rape, domination, you name it. This anything-goes sexuality has long been a part of his appeal, which is why explicit, boundary-pushing experiments like Francis Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula work so much better than a middle-of-the-road picture like Dracula 2000.

It's clear from the start that Dracula 2000 isn't a Coppola epic, but it also almost immediately betrays the genre of gratuitous '80s-style violence and superfluous sex. After the promising beginning that includes leeches stuck to eyeballs and a fair amount of heaving bosoms, it delivers on neither front, staying decidedly PG. This is particularly shocking when you realize that the action takes place during Mardi Gras--and there's ne'er a bead-wearing nudist or vomiting adolescent in sight.

As soon as Dracula arises, it's played for laughs. He does away with the bickering, "Real World"-like thieves with an icy, Schwarzenegger efficiency. But it's disappointing how little Dracula 2000 enjoys what it's doing. The movie is annoyingly post-postmodern in that grating, "self-aware" way that does nothing but pat us on the back for being so goshdarn "with-it" when really it's just business as usual: Big-breasted women are still being chased through the forest by bloodthirsty maniacs, only now the women get to make jokes about their big breasts. This is progress?

We're left with a Dracula story that seems dead-set on reminding us of better vampire movies. This movie's idea of a great death scene is people exploding into fire. (Oooh.) This movie's idea of sensuality is having our heroine hang out at her cool New Orleans pad while wearing a T-shirt and panties. (Ahhh.)

It almost feels like Dracula 2000 is worried about tarnishing the reputation of such a classic tale by being too sleazy, and doesn't want to cheapen it with too many gruesome effects or excessive nudity. At the same time, though, the film tosses out limp catch-phrase lines like "Never fuck with an antique dealer," which cheapens it even more so. The result ends up somewhere in the middle of enjoyably trashy and respectably subtle--which is always the least interesting spot to land.

A telling moment has Dracula walking up to a large music video monitor, which is playing a heavy-metal video featuring scenes of sexual decadence and destruction. "Brilliant," Dracula says. Dracula thinks MTV is really cool. It is obvious that we are supposed to find Dracula very cool. Therefore, when Dracula unfurls his plan to "Make the world in my image," we can extrapolate that his image is going to look a lot like MTV, which, come to think of it, looks and sounds a lot like Dracula 2000. We can infer from Dracula's comment that this is the kind of movie Dracula himself would make if he were so inclined. Which shows us, more than anything, that Dracula--just like Dracula 2000--is no longer cool. Somebody needs to put him out of his century-old misery and bury him. Deep this time. EndBlock

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